In a strange coincidence lately, I picked up two books that dealt with self-harm and today I wanted to talk a little bit about self-harm, the books I've read that deal with this and my own experiences of it.
The first book that I picked up to read, Scars by Cheryl Rainfield, is clearly a book that deals with this subject - you can tell from the very striking cover of the girl's scarred forearms and also the product description on the back, in which you find out this is the story of a girl who cuts herself as the memories of the person who sexually abused her as a child begin resurfacing. I've had this book on my shelves for awhile after the whole #YAsaves drama of awhile back.
In the second book I read, the self-harm is only hinted at throughout the book and is finally revealed in the book's conclusion as a sort of cliff-hanger into the sequel. Because of the spoilery nature of the self-harm, I won't tell you the title of that book and I really hope that in the sequel this character's self-harm isn't treated as something for whose purpose is only to create drama or thrown in for entertainment value.
Both books were very interesting and I have to admit, I kind of love that self-harm is a topic that I'm seeing more and more in literature. I find it is something that I believe is fairly widespread amongst teenage girls (but not always!) and it is definitely something that I wish more people were more understanding and knowledgeable about, especially adults in a position to help - teachers, counsellors, nurses and medical professionals, parents.
It took me awhile to gain enough courage to read my copy of Scars, if I'm honest. I did worry a great deal about reading Scars triggering a relapse. And while it didn't, I did still flinch everytime cutting was mentioned during the book which resulted in me having to read this book very slowly despite it being quite a thin book.
I went through a period of time as a teenager in which I was very depressed and I found myself feeling very alone and without very much hope that things would get better. I had so many feelings that I was holding inside of me that I didn't know how to express - a lot of pain and anger and guilt and confusion in response to the way in which I felt about myself and in response to events that occurred during my childhood - and at the time, it felt like hurting myself was a way in which I could turn my inner emotions and trauma into an actual physical pain. Because physical pain is something that I could deal with in a way that I couldn't handle emotional pain.
I never told anyone about my self-harm, because I didn't feel like I had anyone that I could tell. There is so much of my childhood that I kept to myself and a lot of that secrecy remains to this day. The closest that I ever came to having someone else know my secret, is when my brother came home unexpectedly and burst into my room as I had a thumbtack pressed against my inner arm. I hadn't cut myself as yet, but my brother and I just looked at each other with this tack still pressed against my skin and then he turned and walked away and we never spoke of it. Ever. His lack of response killed something inside of me, but I remember not being able to hurt myself that day knowing that he was in the house with me. It was a low point for me. My self-harm was something I felt I needed to do, but it was also something I felt really ashamed of and it needed to be this privately guarded secret. Having just one other person know about it, even though he showed no outward sign of caring one way or the other, it changed how I felt about it. It didn't stop for quite some time after that point, but it did stop eventually.
Over time, I was able to use other less destructive methods to cope with how I was feeling. Reading helped a lot and in another post planned as part of this feature, I'll be talking about the non-fiction book about self-harm that I feel saved my life. While Scars by Cheryl Rainfield is very difficult to read, both about her memories of childhood sexual abuse and about her self-harm, there's also a great deal of support. It shows Kendra with teachers who are there for her, an adult friend, and a therapist who provide her with unconditional support as well as treatment and therapy to help Kendra to work through her memories, her feelings and to get a hold of her destructive behaviour by turning it into something healthy and creative. At the same time as being a very dark book about ritual abuse, there is still hope. I have to believe that all of us who are ever in this position are never truly alone in our self-harm.
If you or someone you know is hurting themselves, I do urge you to seek help. Either through speaking to your GP, the Samaritans, a friend, a counsellor or psychologist who may refer you to a specialist. Please don't keep quiet about this. Things can get better. I'll leave you with this video from the NHS about self-harm.
Other books that I've read that dealt with self-harm in a way that I could respect and believe...
Entangled by Cat Clarke
Shadows on the Moon by Zoe Marriott
In Search of Adam by Caroline Smailes (not YA)